|The Social Network (2010)|
There are two ways to read women in the universe of The Social Network:
1. As unnecessary set dressing, existing solely for the aesthetic and sexual pleasure of men; or
2. As vital to the invention of social networking and, by extension, to the progression of the film’s plot.
The first reading is actually the one I prefer. The truth is, the female characters in The Social Network are so poorly written that it is easy to ignore them entirely. They are relegated to the roles of girlfriends, ex-girlfriends, one-night stands, groupies and lawyers out to destroy Mark Zuckerberg’s empire. None of them are directly involved in the creation of Facebook or any other social networking site – they are the scenery that accompanies the male protagonists (and antagonists) as they go about reinventing human communication. In fact, if you removed the women from the story entirely, nothing would really change.
My fiancé, who also writes movie reviews, likes to refer to this as “superfluous woman syndrome.” He points out the fact that such treatment of women has become a standard film cliché, and I tend to agree. I think that’s why it didn’t take away from my enjoyment of The Social Network. Yes, it’s maddening that so many films lack positive, three-dimensional roles for women, but perhaps there just wasn’t room for women in The Social Network. It’s based on a true story, after all – could it just be that no women played important roles in the real-life creation of Facebook? If that is indeed the case, I can’t fault Aaron Sorkin or David Fincher for leaving three-dimensional women out of the film.
And this brings us to the second potential reading of women in The Social Network. I typically hope that women fill vital roles in movies, but in the case of The Social Network, that reading is incredibly troubling. The film is bookended by Mark Zuckerberg’s relationship with his girlfriend, Erica. The first scene depicts Mark and Erica on a date, during which Mark is particularly rude and dismissive to Erica, and she, deciding she’s had enough of this treatment, dumps him. This leads Mark to write a highly inappropriate blog post about his ex-girlfriend, which leads him to create a website comparing the attractiveness of Harvard co-eds…which ultimately leads him to create Facebook. Which, by extension, means that Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook because his girlfriend broke his heart.
Again, this would be fine, if it was really how Facebook came into being. Except it wasn’t. Mark Zuckerberg has had the same girlfriend since 2003. And this brings us back to the first reading of The Social Network. The fact that no women do anything significant aside from giving Mark Zuckerberg motivational angst doesn’t mean that no women played significant roles in the creation of Facebook, because we already know that the truth has been altered in the transition to celluloid. All it means is that the filmmakers could not think of anything interesting for any woman to do, other than provide the male leads with enough angst to fuel the film’s action. And that’s the most horrifying reading of all.
Carrie Polansky is one of the Editors and Founders of Gender Across Borders. She graduated from Emerson College in 2008 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Visual and Media Arts (and a minor in Women’s and Gender Studies). Her review of Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire appeared in last year’s Bitch Flicks’ Best Picture Nominee Review Series. She vows to produce films with much, much better roles for women than the roles in The Social Network.